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Story of the Greeks - Helene Guerber

Preparations for Defense

The news of Xerxes' crossing of the Hellespont, and of his approach to conquer Greece, soon reached Athens, where it filled all hearts with fear. The people then remembered Miltiades, and bitterly regretted his death, and their ingratitude, which had been its real cause.

As the mighty general who had already once delivered them was dead, they tried to think who could best replace him, and decided to recall Aristides the Just from his undeserved exile. Aristides generously forgave his fellow-citizens for all the harm they had done him, and he and Themistocles began to do all in their power to insure the safety of Athens.

Swift runners were dispatched in every direction with messages urging all the Greek cities to unite for the good of the country by sending as many brave men as possible to check the Persian army, and to try to hinder it from really entering Greece.

Themistocles was the most active in this attempt to induce the Greek cities to join forces, and it was he who planned a great council, or meeting, at Corinth, in 481 B.C. There it soon became evident that the cities were too jealous of each other to unite as they should.

Many of them promised help, which they never sent; others vowed they would neither send troops nor furnish aid of any kind, unless their generals had supreme command; and even the oracles gave vague and discouraging answers, when consulted as usual.

In spite of all these drawbacks, Themistocles managed to get a few allies, and, in order to induce the Spartans to lend their aid, he promised them the command not only of the army, but also of the fleet.

He next persuaded them that it would be wisest to send an armed force into Thessaly, so as to defend the narrow pass of Thermopylæ, which was the only road by which the Persians could enter Greece. This natural causeway, as we have seen, lay between the mountains and the sea; and, because there were springs of warm water here, it was generally known as Thermopylæ, which is the Greek for "Hot Gateway."

Under the guidance of Leonidas, one of the Spartan kings, three hundred Lacedæmonian soldiers and six thousand allies marched thither, and undertook to guard the pass. This was a very small army; but it was impossible to get more soldiers at the time, as all the Greeks were more anxious to attend the Olympic games, which were just then being celebrated, than to defend their country and homes.

Many of them said they were afraid the gods would be angry if they did not keep the feast as usual, and declared that it was against the law to bear arms or make war during that time. This was perfectly true; but Xerxes did not care at all for the Greek gods, and the country would have been defenseless had it not been for Leonidas and his handful of men.

While this little army traveled northwards, the rest of the people thronged to Olympia, promising to come and fight as soon as the games were ended, and they could again bear arms without offending the gods.

The Persian fleet, as you have seen, had passed behind Mount Athos, instead of rounding it as before, and Xerxes intended landing part of his army just below Thermopylæ. Unfortunately for him, however, the four hundred vessels bearing his troops were wrecked by a sudden storm.

Another fleet was immediately prepared; but, before it was ready, the Olympic games came to an end, and the Greeks, flying to arms as they had promised, hastily embarked upon their own vessels, and came and took up their position at Artemisium, to hinder the advance of the Persian fleet.

[Illustration] from The Story of the Greeks by Helene Guerber


Front Matter

Early Inhabitants of Greece
The Deluge of Ogyges
Founding of Important Cities
Story of Deucalion
Daedalus and Icarus
The Adventures of Jason
Theseus Visits the Labyrinth
The Terrible Prophecy
The Sphinx's Riddle
Death of Oedipus
The Brothers' Quarrel
The Taking of Thebes
The Childhood of Paris
Muster of the Troops
Sacrifice of Iphigenia
The Wrath of Achilles
Death of Hector and Achilles
The Burning of Troy
Heroic Death of Codrus
The Blind Poet
The Rise of Sparta
The Spartan Training
The Brave Spartan Boy
Public Tables in Sparta
Laws of Lycurgus
The Messenian War
The Music of Tyrtaeus
Aristomenes' Escape
The Olympic Games
Milo of Croton
The Jealous Athlete
The Girls' Games
The Bloody Laws of Draco
The Laws of Solon
The First Plays
The Tyrant Pisistratus
The Tyrant's Insult
Death of the Conspirators
Hippias Driven out of Athens
The Great King
Hippias Visits Darius
Destruction of the Persian Host
Advance of the Second Host
The Battle of Marathon
Miltiades' Disgrace
Aristides the Just
Two Noble Spartan Youths
The Great Army
Preparations for Defense
Leonidas at Thermopylae
Death of Leonidas
The Burning of Athens
Battles of Salamis and Plataea
The Rebuilding of Athens
Death of Pausanias
Cimon Improves Athens
The Earthquake
The Age of Pericles
Teachings of Anaxagoras
Peloponnesian War Begins
Death of Pericles
The Philosopher Socrates
Socrates' Favorite Pupil
Youth of Alcibiades
Greek Colonies in Italy
Alcibiades in Disgrace
Death of Alcibiades
Overthrow of Thirty Tyrants
Accusation of Socrates
Death of Socrates
The Defeat of Cyrus
Retreat of the Ten Thousand
Agesilaus in Asia
A Strange Interview
The Peace of Antalcidas
The Theban Friends
Thebes Free Once More
The Battle of Leuctra
Death of Pelopidas
The Battle of Mantinea
The Tyrant of Syracuse
Damon and Pythias
The Sword of Damocles
Dion and Dionysius
Civil War in Syracuse
Death of Dion
Philip of Macedon
Philip Begins His Conquests
The Orator Demosthenes
Philip Masters Greece
Birth of Alexander
The Steed Bucephalus
Alexander as King
Alexander and Diogenes
Alexander's Beginning
The Gordian Knot
Alexander's Royal Captives
Alexander at Jerusalem
The African Desert
Death of Darius
Defeat of Porus
Return to Babylon
Death of Alexander
Division of the Realm
Death of Demosthenes
Last of the Athenians
The Colossus of Rhodes
The Battle of Ipsus
Demetrius and the Athenians
The Achaean League
Division in Sparta
Death of Agis
War of the Two Leagues
The Last of the Greeks
Greece a Roman Province